Mahagonny, Komische Oper, Berlin

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

By: - Oct 11, 2021

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny -  by Kurt Weill ~ Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, at the Komische Oper, Berlin

What startet 1930 as the first opera cooperation between the playwright Bertolt Brecht and the composer Kurt Weill may well turn out to be the last big opera in the 2021/22 season presented at the Komische Oper Berlin with Barrie Kosky as director.  Small wonder that Kosky waited with this difficult project, known the world over as Mahagonny. The house is closing for renovations in the near future and Kosky will then step down as director.

Thus, the opening night on October 2nd 2021 was eagerly awaited - and  turned into a success.  A lonely cry from the public that all is shit (Alles Scheisse) was repudiated immediately by a voice in typically Berlin jargon with shut up (Schnauze). Perhaps it was part of the show, pointing to similarily disturbing actions during the late 1930s in Hitler's Germany. But this intermezzo also summed up what the opera is all about – reflecting a world that is cruel, in your face and without social dignity. Kurt Weill's music, conducted fabulously by Ainärs Rubikis, underscored the action and added urgency to the message of the work. There is the  raunchy story line leading into a catastrophy for all involved, and told as a fast-paced  morality play.The widow Begbick(Nadine Weissmann)  and Trinity Moses (Jens Larsen) founded the city of Mahagonny in the middle of the desert – as they are in flight from the police. Every sin under the sun is allowed  here, and is welcomed – as long as one can pay. When the wood cutter Jim Mahoney (Allan Clayton) cannot do this anymore, he is deserted by his lover, the prostitute Jenny Hill ( Nadja Mcantaf), and everybody in town.  When all stab him to death, Jenny only walks by, in a heartbreaking and minimal gesture of humanity.

The stage settings by Klaus Gruenberg are sparse, underlining the hopelessness of the situation. The stage was narrowed to a wedge-shape with dark curtains controlling the unruly happenings in the first act.  The second and third acts played with mirrors, reflecting endlessly the moves of the chorus and the actors in their black-glittering costumes. Awe inspiring is the last scene, where Jim Mahoney lies in his own blood, stabbed to death one by one by the citizens of Mahagonny, before they themselves disappear.

The opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny has long become one of the seminal works of the international theatre circuit. There are few theatre lovers who do not remember the songs Moon of Alabama, Erstens kommt das Fressen... (First there is over-indulgance in eating) etc..  Mahagonny belongs to the works the Komische Oper has produced often, famoulsy in 1977 and directed by Joachim Herz and most recently by Andreas Homoki in 2006. Though it is long and preachy and hard to endure, it remained a challenge that Kosky had to tackle as well. His interpretation works well, not at least because of the way he uses the great chorus, the brilliant voices and, of course, how he manages the overall production.  Only the ending felt silly and disappointing, when a stuffed animal, functioning as a toy-God with Hebraic letters meaning Hamet (truth) rolled onto the stage. When one of the letters fell off, leaving only the meaning of Met (death), that was a bit much to stomach.  But, this is Mahagonny, all a bit much.